World of Words: Application is the secret of great crime writing...

CRIME writer Peter Lovesey, pictured, has written numerous books in his own name and also under the pen name ‘Peter Lear’, and is particularly known for the Sergeant Cribb novels and Peter Diamond series. He lives near Chichester and is the recipient of both the Gold and Silver Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association.

Thursday, 23rd January 2014, 7:00 pm

In no more than 10 words, why did you become a writer?

The lure of money, pure and simple: a £1,000 competition.

How do you come up with ideas?

They’re everywhere, in newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, things overheard or witnessed. The trick is seeing their potential and using it to inspire a story.

In my library, I once found a book on cider that described the method used on farms of hanging a joint of meat inside the barrel suspended in the apple juice to assist the fermentation. When the cider was ready, only the bone remained. This became the idea for a crime novel called Rough Cider, when a human skull was found hanging inside a barrel.

Strangely, after the book appeared, I found Rough Cider in another library in the wine-making section.

How did you come to be published?

My first book was non-fiction, called The Kings of Distance, a history of distance running, and luckily for me it was picked off the slush pile in the publisher’s office. Athletics was a strong interest, not because I was any good at it. In fact, the reverse. I wrote about it because I wished I could do it. Writing was my way of taking part. My crime writing began a year later, when Macmillan advertised their first crime novel competition. I used my knowledge of Victorian running for a story called Wobble to Death, and it won.

What’s the worst thing about being a writer?

When the computer crashes, or just misbehaves. I’m hopeless with technology and so is my fictional alter ego, Peter Diamond, who has to pretend to be an expert in forensic science. I know if I meddle with the machine I’ll only make it worse. I won’t say I’m nostalgic for the days when I started out and wrote everything long-handed in exercise books, but there was less risk involved. I do know how to back up my files and I try to be systematic about it.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

For me, it’s being published in other countries and getting invited to publicise the books. They are in about 28 languages now. Each year, I do a 12-city bookshop tour in the US, which also enables me to visit my daughter Kathy and family, who live in Connecticut.

What do you consider to be your single greatest achievement to date?

Oh, my, I’m not in the great achievement league, but if you ask me whathas made me most proud, it’s having given up the day job (teaching) almost 40 years ago and survived as a full-time writer, producing about one book a year and having occasional extra income when they’re picked up for television.

Can you name a book that changed your life?

I’ll cheat a bit here and name two. In 1944, when I was a child and starting to appreciate the magic of reading, our house was demolished by a V1 rocket.

My family survived and we were homeless for some time, so my parents had other priorities than buying books. Eventually, we were given two second-hand. One was The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall and the other Alias the Saint.

To a nine-year-old, neither sounded promising. But it turned out that Marshall Hall was a great defence lawyer involved in most of the sensational murder trials, and the Saint was Simon Templar, the hero of the wonderful Leslie Charteris series. I read both books and re-read them many times. In this way, I was introduced to crime of the real and fictional kind and I’m certain my crime-writing career was inevitable after that.

Agatha Christie used to write the book and only when she had finished go back and write the clues. Do you plot in the same way? What do you think is the secret of great crime writing?

Agatha was the greatest of all plotters and I doubt whether it was quite so simple as she made out.

I like to have the story clear in my mind before starting chapter one. Early in my career, I would write an outline chapter by chapter. These days I have it in my head, but most of the big decisions have been made. I don’t work in drafts or rewrite. It’s a slow process, but I get a lot of pleasure putting the words down. I’m not sure that there is a secret to great crime writing. I did once hear that the secret of all writing is application – the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

What are you reading at the moment?

It’s a laugh-out-loud collection of letters called Dear Lupin, written by the late Roger Mortimer to his ‘wayward son’ Charlie. And there’s a sequel, Dear Lumpy: Letters to a disobedient Daughter – who is Louise Mortimer. I’d recommend them to anyone.

What are your ambitions for the future of your writing career?

At my age, to keep going a while longer is the height of ambition. It would be nice if the Peter Diamond series was televised, as Sergeant Cribb was in the 1980s. Let’s say there’s a chance, but I’ve learned not to count on anything.

What are you most looking forward to about 2014?

A shameless plug is coming up. In April, the 14th Diamond novel, The Stone Wife, will be published, and everyone who has seen it in manuscript is excited about its chances. And The Tooth Tattoo is in paperback on February 6, with a lovely quote from Barry Turner in the Daily Mail: “I must resist saying Peter Lovesey is at the peak of his gamesince, judging by past experience, he will soon produce another book that is even better than The Tooth Tattoo.”

Finally, 2014 sees the launch of the literary festival – the Worthing World of Words. What are some of your favourite words?

Mystery, suspense, surprise. And Melody. It makes a lovely name. I chose it for a character in a book of mine called Goldengirl that was filmed in 1979. So when your questions arrived, how could I resist them? Thank you, Melody.